April 10, 1997 ©REESE PALLEY

What Thou Shalt Eat
What Thou Shalt Not Eat

The most dangerous orifice in your body is your mouth.

It is easy to get into terrible trouble not by what we say but also by what we eat. Marilyn and I have no rules for avoiding vocal confrontations other than to advise that you keep your mouth shut. But there are some rules concerning that other deleterious function of your mouth....eating.

If you are planning a long cruise, perhaps even crossing an ocean, then, should you ignore the recommendations in this article, you put your gut at risk.

We profess no scientific basis for what we offer here but, since the nutritionists are the broken field runners of science considering how often they reverse themselves, we feel safe in depending on the most ancient technique for determining what a sailor should eat at sea ...... to wit, experience at sea.

The curious thing that we have discovered after more decades at sea than we care to admit to, is that the rules outlined here for eating at sea are exactly the same rules that you should have been following,anyway, on land. At sea, where all of us, the best sailors and the worst, suffer the inner ear roil and whoops of the sea, the breaking of these simple rules leads to much more egregious results than if you were on solid ground and could ease the turmoils in your gut.

The first rule for a long distance sailor is a curious one and contrary to what seems logical. That rule is never use a fridge at sea. If you ship a fridge you will be using precious power for keeping foods that you should not anyway be eating. The second rule of cruising gustation is, therefore, carry no foods which spoil.

Meat, which is alimentarily egregious even on land is the chiefest of the class of rotting foods to avoid. Meat corrupts sometimes even under refrigeration, is hard to digest, provides too much energy for ocean passages (which require very little,) and is expensive. Add to the cost of meat the cost of preservation and the ever present risk of food poisoning and you have increased the cost of your cruise which, to most of us, is just another way of lessening the length of time we can afford to be at sea.

Cooked meat stays with you too long not only in your belly but also in your nose since the smells of cooking permeate hair, boat and clothes and require an increase in water use for showering.

Cooking meat is always a mess. Cleaning up after the morning bacon or the evening steak in a nasty seaway takes time and energy and, since you are dealing with searingly hot oils, can, and often does, lead to nasty burns.

Fish is also a bit too rich in protein as well as being even more subject to spoilage. Poisoning from bad fish is common on land but who needs a belly full of finny toxins to add to big seas belaboring your inner ear with enough nausea.

Cooking fish also stinks up the boat and undercooking fish (and there is no other way fish should be eaten) adds to the risk of noxious intestinal developments.

Canned fish is OK. For tuna and sardines no cooking is required, no smells and little chance of spoilage . Tuna goes great with mayonnaise which wont spoil even if you beat it with a stick and sardines are a great treat with mustard, equally resistant to the passage of time and temperature.

The nice thing about canned fish is that, for some reason, one tends not to eat too much so that high protein ingestion is limited. However, get your tuna fish in water and get your sardines in mustard....watch out for the cans loaded with unnamed and icky oils.

Cast out all white sugar laden treats. Candy, chocolate, and other comfort foods add not a whit to your passage and much to your waistline. Remember that on a long passage you will mostly be sitting around without exercise so do not encourage sugary foods which, like those of high protein, will go to your belly when they have no other way to exit your body. There is a small window of satisfction in the natural sugars of jellies, jams, and honey. Used in moderation a bit of jam for the royal slice of bread is like the sound of a boys choir.....high, sweet and subtlety satisfying. The best of the preserves are the bitter citrus types made without added sugar. Too sweet quickly cloys. The very best we ever encountered was an Egyptian concoction made from the sour grapefruit of the Nile.

None of us are so pure and high minded that we can long exist without some kind of treat. And them wot say they can are liars. So for all of us weak and pitiable folk who need their oral blankies we recommend, you will never guess, popcorn. Not the kind that emits the sickening stench of rancid butter in our movie lobbies....all thatŐs good for is to keep the kids quiet. One can soon develop a taste and a passion for popcorn sans butter, sans salt and sans oil. Those contaminants only mask the simple hearted, light and artless flavor of unadorned popcorn of which you may, without guilt and with little abuse to your gut, eat to satiety. Hot popcorn is incredible on a cold night on watch as the flavor and the promise of warmth and comfort floats up the companionway hatch just ahead of its arrival. On one passage up the Red Sea, we had a popcorn fest/contest with with our Kiwi crew--it was impossible to sleep without the aroma of a popcorn treat being concocted in the galley (see recipes).

Who really needs butter? What does a slab of fattening, oily and smelly butter add to your passage? Even oleo, while less damaging to your heart than butter, has little that is socially or sailorly beneficial. Same for ice cream, cream cheese, cream in your coffee and other bloats of milkfats.

We must admit one personal lactic exception. A good hard cheese that can roll about unrefrigerated in the bottom of a locker for months is hard to resist. Admittedly cheese is formidable to digestion, attacks your arteries and pumps up the tire about your waist, but as a rare and special treat, with half a glass of red wine and some calamata olives, there is little to beat it at sea or on land.

Eggs are interesting. The thing about eggs is that they keep for as long as it takes to cross an ocean without refrigeration. There are lots of things to do to eggs and, in moderation, they can be forgiven their protein and their cholesterol. And at the early part of your passage, a Ceaser like salad can be whipped up using one raw egg from almost any kind of green veggie.

Problem is that green veggies spoil quickly. There is one noble and notable exception. Cabbage. Good for you, lasts forever, supplies roughage, ainŐt fattening, makes a dynamite soup, satisfying slaws and is the mate for cornedbeefless cabbage. Americans look down their narrow Western European noses at cabbage while Eastern Europeans for eons have been secretly concocting wondrous things like borscht, patties wrapped in sweet and sour cabbage leaves and pickled whole cabbages. Peasant food! But in the final analysis it is really Peasant foods that go best on a boat.

For example, Pasta. A truly Peasant food. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can do to pasta that will reinforce and replicate the motions of your vessel. Pasta sinks solidly down into the belly, produces no odoriferous belchy emanations and is, digestively speaking, most obliging. In all of our experience we have found that pasta is the best antidote for the Sickness of the Sea.

Cooking pasta requires no hot oils and, should your water be running low, pasta allows itself to be tastefully cooked in sea water. Pasta is, like love, capable of intriguing variation. Anything, as in lovemaking, that you can think of adding to pasta will only improve it.

One likes to think that pasta was not invented by Italians but by some ancient sailor who got sick and tired of rotting foods. And pasta comes with that special talent most desired above all others to a sailor....it will not spoil, stale or rot. We bought pasta in Romania in 1989. We bought a lot of it since it was Italian and very cheap in those days when the dollar was the sailorŐs friend. We stashed pasta in every conceivable crevice. We crammed it under bunks and into the PVC tubes we roll our charts in. It is beyond belief how much pasta can be insinuated into the fissures, chinks and clefts,otherwise wasted, of any sailboat. We ate pasta with the abandon of the knowledge of endless supply and we have continued to do so to this day, the same pasta, that is, that we bought in the grocery store of Constanza when we pulled into that Romanian port. Hooray for pasta....the sailorŐs friend.

Bread is good, but, unless you learn to bake aboard....much easier than it sounds, it stales quickly. To bake you must carry flour; the problem with flour is that no matter how pure the stuff looks when you buy it wee animals appear as if by spontaneous combustion and disturb the more fastidious among us. The less fastidious have learned that the bit of protein represented by the mites does no harm....except esthetically.

For those who are wary of the wigglies there is a perfect means of preservation of flour as well as other dried stuff like beans and cereals. Before sailing, place a small piece of dry ice in the bottom of quart plastic jugs. Pour in the flour or whatever and leave the cap loose for a couple of hours. In that time the dry ice melts and permeates the jar with carbon dioxide, inimical to all wiggly life but utterly harmless to you. Tighten down and in ten years nothing will appear.

As a pretty fair substitute for bread try to find the five gallon tins of hard plain biscuits which, with a shot of grog, spread the English Empire around the world. They can get a bit moldy so break down the big containers into little airtight ones. If you cannot find the English variety there is a cracker brought over by the Cubans which will do just as well. They usually come packed in small sealed cellophane so require no repacking and can be tucked away into almost any unlikely empty nook on the boat.


Now for some specifics. Here are a few of the utterly simple and blindingly sensible recipes that have sustained us for our 20 years at sea. Following them, while at sea, we svelted and slimmed. Alas, for those odd months that we were forced to spend ashore some of the svelte melted back to fat. The only cure was to go back to sea.

Not at all a bad medicine.


Fish Cakes

Canned tuna and/or salmon mashed together with chopped onion, moistened with an egg or two, rolled and coated with bread crumbs, then pan fried in little olive oil.


Cabbage potato soup

Boil together in large pot of water cut up cabbage, onions, and potatoes with chicken boullion cubes, salt and pepper.


Pasta Putanesca

Pasta served with drizzle of olive oil and any canned veggies with a sprinkle of processed (canned) parmesan cheese.



Leftover unadorned pasta with beaten egg(s) for moisture, honey, cinnamon, and raisins then bake.


Bread pudding

Leftover stale bread and crackers moisted with egg and small can of evaporated milk or UHT milk, honey, cinnamon, and raisins or can of fruit then bake. If no oven, pan fry as pancake.


Popcorn + olive oil + garlic powder + salt

Popcorn avec honey

Popcorn + olive oil + Cayenne pepper

Popcorn avec cinnamon (canola oil)

Popcorn +olive oil+ grated cheese

Popcorn plein with salt


KISS--Keep It Simple Silly. The best advice is to keep meals simple and flavorful. BUT not too heavy on the spices as they will repeat maybe even days later. As the Sea Change overtakes you all of your senses will upsurge and amplify. Aromas, heretofore slighted by the smell abused nose of land, will waft up the companionway teasing your taste buds and burying your queaze. Even basic meals will be gourmet and the pounds shed by sensible eating will add years to your sailing life.